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Email becomes less secure

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One-third of global respondents to a survey of IT security professionals believe their email is more vulnerable today than it was five years ago.

The finding has been reported  by email security and archiving company Mimecast, in its new global research study: Mimecast Business Email Threat Report 2016, Email Security Uncovered. The survey of 600 IT security professionals, shows that while 64 percent regard email as a major cyber-security threat to their business (71 percent in South Africa), 65 percent (41) don’t feel fully equipped or up to date to reasonably defend against email-based attacks.

Email continues to be a critical technology in business and the threat of email hacks and data breaches loom large over IT security managers. Consequently, confidence and experience with previous data breaches and email hacks play key parts in determining a company’s perceived level of preparedness against these threats and targeted email attacks.

Of the 600 surveyed, just 35 percent (59 percent in South Africa) feel confident about their level of preparedness against data breaches. Of the 65 percent (41) who don’t feel fully prepared against future potential attacks, nearly half (49%) experienced such attacks in the past, indicating that they don’t feel any more protected following an attack than they did prior.

This is also reflected in the few steps taken toward widespread email security. Although 83 percent (75 percent in South Africa) of all respondents highlight email as a common attack vector, one out of ten report not having any kind of email security training in place. Among the least-confident respondents, 23 percent attest to lacking any supplementary security measures.

“Our cyber-security is under attack and we depend on technology, and email in particular, in all aspects of business. So it’s very disconcerting to see that while we might appreciate the danger, many companies are still taking too few measures to defend themselves against email-based threats in particular,” said Brandon Bekker, managing director, Mimecast South Africa. “As the cyber threat becomes more grave, email attacks will only become more common and more damaging. It’s essential that executives, the C-suite in particular, realize that they may not be as safe as they think and take action. Our research shows there is work still to be done to be safe and we can learn a lot from the experience of those that have learnt the hard way.”

Budget and C-suite involvement were the biggest gaps found between the most and least prepared respondents. Among the IT security managers who feel most prepared, five out of six say that their C-suite is engaged with email security. However, of all IT security managers who were polled, only 15 percent (17 percent in South Africa) say their C-suite is extremely engaged in email security, while 44 percent (28) say their C-suite is only somewhat engaged, not very engaged, or not engaged at all.

Those who feel better prepared to handle email-based threats also allocate higher percentages of their IT security budgets toward email security. These IT security managers allocate 50 percent higher budgets to email security compared to managers who were less confident in their readiness. From these findings, the data points to allotting 10.4 percent of the total IT budget toward email security as the ideal intersection between email security confidence and spend.

Mimecast found that five distinct “personas” emerged among the respondents, and characterized them into a Cyber-Security Shiver Grid based on their levels of email security and perceptions of data breach confidence: the Vigilant (16 percent), Equipped Veterans (19 percent), Apprehensive (31 percent), Nervous (6 percent) and Battle-Scarred (28 percent). Altogether, a majority of the IT security managers – totaling 65 percent, comprising the apprehensive, nervous and battle-scarred respondents – feel unprepared to manage email-based attacks.

Other key findings of the survey include:

  • The top 20 percent of organizations that feel most secure are 250 percent more likely to see email as their biggest vulnerability.
  • Confident IT security managers are 2.7x more likely to have a C-suite that is extremely or very engaged in email security. They are also 1.6x more likely to see C-suite involvement in email security as extremely or very appropriate.
  • The least confident IT security managers are more likely to be using Microsoft’s Exchange Mail Server 2010, which ended mainstream support in January 2015. The most confident managers are more likely to use the up-to-date Exchange Server 2013.
  • 70 percent of IT professionals that have recently and directly experienced an email hack employ internal safeguards, such as data leak prevention or targeted threat protection.
  • Apprehensive IT security professionals are more likely to be found in smaller (fewer than 500 employees) firms than larger ones (32 percent to 18 percent, respectively).
  • Less than half (48 percent) of IT security managers in smaller firms feel confident and well-prepared for tackling email security threats, compared to larger companies.

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AI, IoT, and language of bees can save the world

A groundbreaking project is combining artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to learn the language of bees, and save the planet, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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It is early afternoon and hundreds of bees are returning to a hive somewhere near Reading in England. They are no different to millions of bees anywhere else in the world, bringing the nectar of flowers back to their queen.

But the hive to which they bring their tribute is no ordinary apiary.

Look closer, and one spots a network of wires leading into the structure. They connect up to a cluster of sensors, and run into a box beneath the hive carrying the logo of a company called Arnia: a name synonymous with hive monitoring systems for the past decade. The Arnia sensors monitor colony acoustics, brood temperature, humidity, hive weight, bee counts and weather conditions around the apiary.

On the back of the hive, a second box is emblazoned with the logo of BuzzBox. It is a solar-powered, Wi-Fi device that transmits audio, temperature, and humidity signals, includes a theft alarm, and acts as a mini weather station.

In combination, the cluster of instruments provides an instant picture of the health of the bee hive. But that is only the beginning.

What we are looking at is a beehive connected to the Internet of Things: connected devices and sensors that collect data from the environment and send it into the cloud, where it can be analysed and used to monitor that environment or help improve biodiversity, which in turn improves crop and food production.

The hives are integrated into the World Bee Project, a global honey bee monitoring initiative. Its mission is to “inform and implement actions to improve pollinator habitats, create more sustainable ecosystems, and improve food security, nutrition and livelihoods by establishing a globally-coordinated monitoring programme for honeybees and eventually for key pollinator groups”.

The World Bee Project is working with database software leader Oracle to transmit massive volume of data collected from its hives into the Oracle Cloud. Here it is combined with numerous other data sources, from weather patterns to pollen counts across the ecosystem in which the bees collect the nectar they turn into honey. Then, artificial intelligence software – with the assistance of human analysts – is used to interpret the behaviour of the hive, and patterns of flight, and from there assess the ecosystem.

Click here to read more about how the Internet of Things is used to interpret the language of bees.

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Download speeds ramp up in SA

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All four South African mobile network operators have improved their average download speed experience by at least 1 Mbps in the past six months.

This is one of the main findings in the latest South Africa Mobile Network Experience report by Opensignal, the mobile analytics company. It has analysed the mobile experience in the country, updating a study last conducted in February 2019. While a quick look at its South Africa awards table suggests not much has changed since the last report, it’s far from stagnating. 

Opensignal reports the following improvements across its measurements:

  • MTN remains the leader in our 4G Availability measurements, with a score of 83.6%. But the other three operators are all now within 2 percentage points of the 80% milestone — with Telkom’s users seeing the biggest increase of over 8 points.
  • All four operators improved their Download Speed Experience scores by at least 1 Mbps. But growth in our Upload Speed Experience scores has stagnated, with only winner Vodacom seeing an incremental increase.
  • MTN and Vodacom remain tied for our Video Experience award, and both have increased their scores in the past six months, putting them on the cusp of Very Good (65-75) ratings. Cell C also increased its score to tip over into a Good ranking (55-65).
  • MTN scored over 90% in 4G Availability in two of South Africa’s biggest cities and was just shy of this milestone in the others. Meanwhile, MTN and Vodacom have now passed the 20 Mbps mark in Download Speed Experience in three cities each.

A quick look at the awards table would suggest not much has changed in South Africa since the last report in February. MTN won the 4G Availability award again, Vodacom kept hold of the medals for Upload Speed and Latency Experience, while the two operators tied for Download Speed and Video Experience just as they did six months ago.

But far from stagnating, we’re seeing improvements across most of the measurements. All four of South Africa’s national operators — Cell C, MTN, Telkom and Vodacom — are now closing in on 80% 4G Availability nationally, while at the urban level, MTN has passed the 90% mark in two cities. And in Download Speed Experience, our users on all four operators’ networks saw their scores increase at least 8%.

In this report, Open Signal has analyzed the scores for all four national operators across all their metrics over the 90 days from the start of May 2019, including South Africa’s five biggest cities — Cape Town, Durban, Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg, and Tshwane.

MTN has been top of Open Signal’s South African 4G Availability leaderboard for a couple of years now, and the operator remains dominant with a winning score over 4 percentage points ahead of its rivals. But it was users on Telkom’s network who saw the most impressive boost in 4G Availability, as its score jumped by well over 8 percentage points.

This leap has put Telkom into a three-way draw for second place with Cell C and Vodacom, who both saw their scores increase by at least 3 percentage points.

While MTN is the only operator to have passed 80% in national 4G Availability, the other three players are all less than 2 percentage points away from this milestone. Based on the current rate of improvement, Open Signal fully expects to see all four operators pass the 80% mark in its next report — which will provide testament to the rapid maturing of the South African mobile market.

MTN and Vodacom remain neck-and-neck in the Video Experience analysis, with both operators scoring 65 (out of 100). And the two rivals both saw their scores rise by around 3 points since our last report, meaning the two continue to share our Video Experience award. Cell C and Telkom remain in third and fourth place, but both saw larger increases — of 5 and 4 points respectively — to narrow the gap on the leaders.

The increase in MTN and Vodacom’s Video Experience scores means the two operators are on the cusp of Very Good (65-75) ratings in this metric — with the users on their networks enjoying fast loading video times and almost non-existent stalling, even at higher resolutions. By comparison, Cell C’s score earned it a Good rating (55-65), while Telkom remains in Fair (40-55) territory — meaning users watching video on Telkom’s network, in particular, will likely struggle with longer load times and frequent stuttering, even at lower resolutions.

In terms of 4G-only Video Experience, Cell C’s score has increased enough to tip it over into a Very Good rating — now featuring three operators achieving 4G network scores with a Very Good ranking. And as 4G Availability continues to increase, the overall Video Experience scores will continue to climb, making mobile video viewing more of a viable proposition across all networks. And in a country where fixed-line broadband connections are relatively rare and the large majority of South Africans only connect to the internet via cellular, this improvement has the potential to transform people’s lives.

Read more from Open Signal’s report here.

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